John & Griselda Lewis Printing Collection

Reference: JGLDate: 14th century – 1990sExtent: 96 boxes

John Lewis (1912-1996) was a typographer and graphic designer who, with Michael Twyman and Maurice Rickards, pioneered the study of printed ephemera. He was the author of several books, including Printed Ephemera: the changing uses of type and letterforms in English and American printing.

Lewis married Griselda Rideout (1917-2014) in 1940. Griselda Lewis was a noted writer, book designer and ceramics collector, best known for her publication A Collector’s History of English Pottery. Along with her husband, she worked with artists and designers, including Edward Bawden, Henry Moore and John Nash, as well as designing programmes and posters for Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears for various Aldeburgh Festivals.

After serving in the camouflage unit during World War II, John began working at the printing firm W.S. Cowell Ltd of Ipswich as a typographer. He taught at the Royal College of Art from 1951 through 1963 and founded the College’s Lion and Unicorn Press in 1956.

Printed Ephemera, one of John Lewis’s best-known books, was published in 1962 and is considered pivotal in giving credence to the notion of paper ephemera as a subject for research. The book was inspired by Lewis’s own collection of early printed specimen. John and Griselda’s printed ephemera collection began when John purchased a large folio scrapbook while in Ipswich. The original owner of the book was a Dr Lodge, who had been the librarian at the University of Cambridge sometime in the 1820s. Lodge had collected an assortment of printed matter, including early printers’ marks, individual leaves and specimens of type, as well as an array of tradesmen’s bills and public notices. Some of the rarer pieces included a 15th century Indulgence and a 1757 specimen from the famous printer John Baskerville. Lewis later disassembled the original volume.

The collection was later supplemented by similar material accumulated by the typographer and illustrator Berthold Wolpe, a colleague of John Lewis at the Royal College of Art, and from contributions from Ben Weinreb, a London-based dealer in rare books to whom the collection was sold in around 1990. What survives today is therefore an amalgamation of the collecting interests of four parties. The result is a diverse and historical printed ephemera collection incorporating not just John and Griselda’s collection of early printing specimens, but also examples of newspaper advertisements, artists’ greetings cards, broadsides, journals, legal documents, book covers and trade cards, plus specimens of calligraphy, marbled paper, lithography and fine art printing. Everything from fifteenth-century printed leaves to twentieth-century food labels.

During his ownership of the collection, Weinreb arranged the documents into various categories. The first half of the collection is roughly organised by document type. These include Early Manuscripts and Printed Books, Prospectuses, and Trade Cards, Letterheads and Catalogues. Much of the latter half is arranged by themes, such as Religion, Maritime, Agriculture, and so on, each of which contain a broad mixture of specimens. In total, the collection consists of around 20,000 individual documents, arranged into 72 different series. In addition, the collection includes a number of printing woodblocks, photographs of documents used to illustrate his publications, and some of Lewis’s correspondence.

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